I say “Plato,” you say…

So my son started his high-school freshman year last week. My spouse and I had the following dialog:

Spouse: (Scowling) “I looked over the online syllabus for his English class and the teacher mentions Plato!”

Me:”You don’t like Plato?”

Spouse:”Not in a high-school English class I don’t!”

Me:”Well, I don’t know. It might be a little esoteric for 9th graders but frankly I would rather like some classical influence in education. Besides, didn’t Plato create a theory of narrative structure? Maybe that was Aristotle, I confuse them at times. In any case it would be easy to integrate Plato into an English class.”

Spouse: (Stops and glares at me)

Me:(Knowing that look) “What? What did I say?”

Spouse:(Enunciating carefully) “Not Play-toe, the philosopher. Play-dough as in the clay!”

Me: “Oooooooh, that Playdough.”

For his first assignment in English class, my son had to write a poem expressing his “true inner self” and then, and I can’t believe I am writing this, decorate it! Being a true guy my son said, “I don’t have a true inner self and if I did I wouldn’t read a poem about it in front of class.” A lot of people complain about the “feminization” of education and I would like to offer this as Exhibit A.

I have no idea what they will use the play-dough for but I don’t think it will have anything to do with writing coherent sentences. The curriculum gets more childish every year. They clearly value emotion over skill.

I say “Plato”, you say “Playdough.” Let’s call the whole thing off.

[Update: Is is just me or does their seem to exist some kind of karmic law that causes any post touching upon language, grammar, spelling and like to itself contain an inordinate number of misspellings, typos and non-grammatical sentences?]

20 thoughts on “I say “Plato,” you say…”

  1. The dialogues were written by Aristotle, who was writing for Plato as his apprentice. The actual dialogues are published under Aristotle’s name, but as Plato’s teachings.

  2. david foster,

    Plese tell me you are putting us on.

    Nope, true story, real assignments. He attends, I might add, a highly rated suburban science and math magnet school.

  3. fred lapides,

    is english the same subject as English?

    Actually, the class is called “Language Arts.” I substituted “english” in order to not confuse readers. I didn’t capitalize it because “I can’t live by your rules, man!”

  4. John,

    Is this teacher a Boomer?

    I haven’t met her yet but I don’t think it matters since as far as I can tell she follows the general curriculum guidelines. My daughter graduated the same high school and she encountered the same crap. We complained and found that State required much of this nonsense.

    Since I am constitutionally incapable of passing up a chance to bash boomer I will point out that they undoubtedly design the curriculum.

  5. I am not sure feminization is the right expression here. I consider that to be an insult to women and school girls who would also dislike the idea of reading a poem about their inner selves in front of a whole class room. We call it dumbing down in Britain but it has reached the sort of proportions that the expression is becoming inadequate. Idiotization?

  6. Helen,

    I am not sure feminization is the right expression here.

    Think of it in terms of opposite poles on a spectrum of learning styles. In general, males learn differently than females and boys find different subjects interesting and engaging. Over the last couple of decades education styles have shifted from a mixed-gender style to one that reflects the feminine style.

    It isn’t precisely dumbing down in that regard. The material could be just as rigorous as in a more traditional approach but it will deal with subjects that more females find interesting than males and in a manner in which females are more comfortable.

    I think many 14 year old girls would spontaneously write and decorate a poem but I think very few 14 year old boys would. Characterizing the entire effect as “feminization” is as accurate as any such generalization can be.

  7. Well, it could be great if they don’t insist on the inner self thing and allow expression on something one cares deeply about. For some boys it might be: “Ode to the Smell of an Armpit as I Break Out of a Headlock”, but encouraging verbal expression really is the point of English class. I’m just pretty sure tha this teacher will insist on the inner self thing, and the art project is what makes me so certain. It’s the playdough s#&t I most objected to when I was in school.

    We quit calling it Language Arts by middle school – that was an elementary school course title, and it reflects a lack of intellectual rigor, IMO. I guess this teacher takes the course title rather too seriously.

  8. We called that kind of assignment: “Living in the Projects.” Our baby (now 19) starts college in 2 weeks. No more projects.

  9. I can guarantee you any poem of inner essence that glorifies competition, physical efforts that might be considered violent, or heterosexuality will be criticized relentlessly.

    There are so many issues touched upon by this little anecdote it would take days to even discuss them all. Suffice it to say that such idiocy is endemic in our collapsing educational edifice.

    Stuff like this is one of several reasons we send our kids to as rigorous a private school as we can find, and make whatever accomodations are necessary within our family to absorb the additional expense.

  10. i once had one of those school assignments where we were supposed to talk about our deepest dreams & feelings & so on…i wrote about some pretty personal stuff and was badly mocked by some of the other students

    i don’t think it’s usually a good idea to talk about very personal stuff with a class of people you don’t know well and this is true for girls as well as boys.


  11. In the current City Journal, Gerry Garibaldi describes the effect of this on boys – I agree it discourages girls from becoming linear thinkers but at least they aren’t made to feel ashamed of the very essence of who they are.

    Sometimes I wonder if the 19th century educators who thought women couldn’t handle the more rigorous & objective program of traditional male education haven’t been channeled by modern education departments. But now such such rigor is seen as immoral. (A comfortable position to take if you graduate in the bottom 10% of your college class.)

  12. The value of this sort of exercise is that it trains boys to read the opponent’s expectations, hide their real emotions, adapt an advantageous camouflage, and look for an opportunity to either escape or slip the dagger in. Machiavelli must have written this lesson plan.

    It might even bring them up to the level of girls.

  13. We’ll have to agree to disagree, Shannon. Unless, of course, you consider Keats to be immensely feminine. The point is this is rubbish, whichever way you look at it. They should be reading poems and not writing until they have learnt how a poem works and how poetry in the English language has developed.

  14. Helen – in general, I would say that more females than males find Keats interesting, so yes, I’d regard him as feminine in that respect – especially for this age group.

    I’m not sure that I agree that you should not be writing poetry until you completely understand how the stuff works. I used to do math problems without understanding the whole concept, and it was the working out on my own that helped me understand the concepts. I will agree that the process is one of bootstrapping, where the student writes simple forms and studies a more complex one, then as a result the student’s writing gets more complex. What most of these Ed School grads do is to throw out the studying of the classics and let “creativity” reign. Forgetting, of course, that you have to have some worthwhile examples in your head before you can be truly creative.

  15. Okay, Shannon, I can’t come close to topping that. But here’s what my daughter brought home today: a poem by Margaret Atwood about “Half-hanged Mary.” Personally, I really detest Margaret Atwood anyway, but here is the intro: “The poem is based upon a true story when men were practicing gendercide against women who dared to be independent or ask for equal rights. The poem is written by Margaret Atwood, who is, of course, a professor. Margaret has a great deal of herstorical poems and scientific ones as well. Please, if you don’t know about the Salem Witch Trials told from a feminine perspective do learn them. Women were committing suicide by the thousands in Europe to escape terrible “witch hunts.” But some strong women never die! Resist! Refuse!”

    (Notice the adolescent style – referring to her as “Margaret,” describing her as “having” poems, blurring American & European & indeed Canadian takes on witch trials, treating history in a superficial & ideological way. Does this intro do anything, in fact, that we want our students to do?

    Her parents had already sent her off to the discussion of The Crucible knowing a remarkably small number of Americans were killed as witches and that Arthur Miller in the last couple of years has admitted, rather airily, that he guessed he was on the wrong side of history. And Alger Hiss was a spy. She’s too shy to challenge the teacher, but is getting more and more “annoyed.” And that’s a girl.

    I asked how the guys in her class felt; she said she didn’t know, but she was pretty uncomfortable. She figured they must be. (The teacher has already said that she just couldn’t get into – which probably means assign – any of the stories about boys coming of age.)

    Since her parents met in a grad English class, I don’t think she is under the impression that real men don’t do lit. He lifts weights, outdrinks most of his buddies, etc. Fortunately, some of the other English teachers at her school are guys – one is even the swimming coach. But no wonder many guys want nothing to do with poetry. My husband was turned on to lit in jr. high by reading Tennyson’s Idylls–heaven forbid they teach that war mongering masculine tale in high schools.

  16. “Tennyson’s Idylls”

    Solid stuff. I’ve been picking at it lately. If we ever have a NeoVictorian age, like in Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age, Tennyson will be “in” again. Would that I might live to see such a day.

    Keats is not for girls. Keats is part of the heritage of the West, the treasury of the English-speaking world. It’s how you teach it. But I don’t suppose there are many people left who can do it correctly.

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